“You have my prayers and support…unless you’re a sinner.”

A reflection by Lindsey

We have received some difficult news about how quickly Sarah’s Meniere’s disease is progressing. In the last 48 hours, both of us have had to deal with countless insensitive remarks that leave us feeling drained, isolated, and alone. I’m fluctuating between emotions of being absolutely irate, feeling overwhelmed, and sad. I find the Psalms of lament ringing deeply true, especially if I stop after the Psalmist has laid out the case for why life presently sucks. It’s hard to push forward to the end of the Psalm where we get the goods of being able to trust in God’s awesome majesty.

In seasons like this one, I find myself listening to a lot of Christian radio. It may be simply that I’m in my car a fair bit, driving from Point A to Point B. But when life is hard, I can’t help but notice the lyrics and periodically hear what the DJs have to say. I hear the announcements of “We’d love to pray for you; just drop us a line!” and “We know that prayer works. Don’t hesitate to give us a call,” and I can’t help but feel sad. I’m sad because I wish I could call up the station and say something to the effect of,

Hey, I’m so glad that you are praying for people. Right now, I am feeling like I’ve been hit by a ton of bricks. My partner Sarah has a condition called Meniere’s disease that’s progressing rapidly. We just found out that Sarah has lost all hearing in the right ear. Over the next several weeks, the doctor is going to start a series of injections to try to stop the vertigo attacks but the injections are risky. We’re trying to hope for the best, but I can’t help but be afraid that Sarah might lose more hearing in the left ear before Christmas. We’re trying to be proactive by learning ASL. Sarah has friends who know more ASL than I do, and it helps that Sarah has a knack for languages. I wish I could do better so I could be able to sign for Sarah during periods of significant hearing loss, especially when we’re at church together. This burden is hard to carry because there are so many unknowns, and I’d feel better if people were praying for Sarah, for the medical team, and for us as a family as we navigate through this together.

And truth be told, I can’t ever see myself sharing this prayer request with the radio station or my church’s congregational listserv. There’s something very wrong with the universe where I feel safer putting this prayer request on the blog before I’ve even shared it with the entirety of my Facebook friends list. I’ve thought about this prayer request for days. Every time it crosses my mind, the same question pops up: “Is there any way to make this request without using the word partner?” I find myself paralyzed because the answer to this question is empathically “No.” My emotional and spiritual realities right now are what they are because I am Sarah’s partner. I am going to be here through thick and thin. I am going to figure out how to drop everything to be by Sarah’s side if and when I am needed. I am going to do my very best to learn ASL because I am sure as hell not going to lose my ability to communicate with Sarah. I do not care if other people think I am making mountains out of molehills. At the end of the day, I’m the only person who can look myself in the mirror to answer if I’m living a life of integrity. And with that conviction, you can bet the farm that I am going to call Sarah my partner because I know Sarah would choose the exact same word if our positions were switched.

The instant I choose to call Sarah my partner, I see a tremendous amount of ugliness in the Body of Christ. I can’t bring myself to call the Christian radio station because I’m scared of hearing, “There’s no way we can pray for you and your partner. If you really cared for each other, you wouldn’t be living together.” Putting the word partner out there on a congregational listserv means that even the people most marginally attached to my Sunday morning community may, and likely will feel compelled to speak judgment into my life. People who come most Sundays know that Sarah and I are partners even if we choose not to use that word at church, and even if they choose not to think about it more often than once a week. There are members of our community who would be willing to pray for me or Sarah during individual difficult circumstances, but seem afraid to pray for both of us together lest it appear that they are condoning sin.

So many Christian communities are carefully balanced apple carts where using a word like partner in a prayer request can ignite years of debate. On the blog, I feel safer because there are 193 other posts to reflect on our experiences as a celibate, LGBT, Christian couple. If someone decides to be a jerk in the comments, we can choose to moderate the comment or to answer his or her comment in part by highlighting other posts we’ve written. I like feeling the security of having a reasonably civil venue where I have some control over how the discussion unfolds. It bothers me that I have been in Christian environments for over 15 years where I know that my fears of judgment, gossip chains, and rumor mills are entirely well-founded.

And when I think about how every other LGBT Christian I know can relate to my fears on one level or another, I get irate. How have we gotten to a point where two syllables in a prayer request have the potential to split congregations? How do we claim to be a “loving community” when we deny principal caregivers space to share their burdens with others? How do we even begin to communicate to others that we would much rather find ourselves closer to the heart of the Body of Christ?

I don’t have good answers to those questions. I’m stuck trying to figure out how to find my strength in Christ even when I feel explicitly rejected and judged by those who make following Him their public priority. Right now, I find myself relying on selective hearing, a driving bass line, and a pretty solid drum beat.

I’m in a war, every minute. I know for sure I’ll never win it. I am David up against Goliath… You. Are. Bigger than every battle I’m facing… All by myself, I fall to pieces, but You are strong when I am weakest…You. Are. Bigger than every battle I’m facing…

And there’s a distinct part of me that prays fervently that as I find some places where I can be transparent about what I’m going through, life might be just a little bit better for the next LGBT caregiver to request prayers for his or her partner.

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68 thoughts on ““You have my prayers and support…unless you’re a sinner.”

  1. Thank you, Lindsey and Sarah. By sharing your painful struggles in such a lovingly presented blog, you do so much to celebrate our common struggles as people in an unevenly loving world. Please know that you, individually and as a family, are in the prayers of me and my family. (We haven’t met, but we are members of Cedar Ridge Community Church in Burtonsville, MD, and saw your blog through a mutual friend, Teaque McClaren.

  2. What the heck is so wrong with the word FRIEND? Has our society become so afraid of friendship that we have to let everybody know what does or does not go on in our bedrooms?

    • Theodore, this is Sarah. I’ll let Lindsey respond when Lindsey is home from work this evening, but I felt this needed a response now. The word “partner” does *not* let everyone know what does or does not go on in someone’s bedroom. I have no idea why you seem to think it does. One thing our blog tries to challenge is the misconception that “partner” is necessarily sexual, and that in order to be considered a couple or a family, two partners must be having sex. What’s wrong with the word “friend”? Nothing, when we’re using it to refer to our *friends.* We are not afraid of friendship. Lindsey’s and my relationship is more than a friendship. “Friend” does not seem to describe fully what we are to each other. We’re constantly amazed at how many people who read our blog seem afraid of the word “partner.” It seems you want to put every meaningful relationship into a box of “friendship” or “marriage.” Human relationally is not so simple, and we will continue to raise that point again and again.

    • Hi Theodore, I’m just getting home.

      It’s not terribly uncommon for people to include how they are related to another person when asking for prayers. If I were to tell people that my aunt was diagnosed with cancer, many people could appreciate why I might be taking that news in a particular way. If I said that my roommate had lost a job, many people might rightly assume that I could be in a financially tricky situation. The proximity of the relationship matters in understanding the request.

      As we shared in our Defining Celibacy post, we understand that commitment is a huge part of our vocation. I’ve committed to living my life with Sarah. We’re going through life together. That means that nearly every facet of my life is going to be impacted by Sarah’s hearing loss. I’m praying like crazy that Sarah retains the ability to work because 1) it’s always good to get out and do things one loves and 2) our finances look really different when only one of us is working. Even these basic observations indicate that an all-purpose word like “friend” might fail to communicate why I am so impacted by recent events.

      I’m not afraid of the word “friend.” I use it all of the time. However, I find that “friend” fails in this situation because people tend to downplay how Sarah’s diagnosis directly impacts me and my life. Just thinking about the phrase “my friend Sarah” designates more than 10 people who live all over the world.

    • There lies the problem with the Christian Church. I challenge anyone to go to any Christian bookstore and find any book dealing with friendship, particularly same-sex friendship.

      • Then you can compare that non-existent section with the sheer volume of Christian romance. Incredibly challenging indeed.

        • No shortage of those books. Honestly, I’ve sometimes browsed through what books Christian book stores have to offer and end up wondering if this Christian industry thinks LGBT or single Christians even exist. At least that’s the way it feels to me.

          • Agreed. So many Christians think heterosexual marriage is the default for everyone.

  3. Lindsey and Sarah, I am so sorry to hear about this difficult time you’re going through. It totally sucks that you sense you can’t share it with your church community. Praying for you both. (We live pretty close to you guys–please let us know if we can help.)

    • Thanks so much Karen. Right now, I’m trying to figure out a way to learn religious-related vocabulary in ASL. Sarah’s taking ASL 1 which has given us a basic conversational vocabulary. Since no one else at our congregation knows ASL, I might find myself in positions where I’m trying to relay to Sarah something that has been said.

    • Hi Catherine, thanks for dropping by the comment box today. I appreciate your prayers 🙂 We’ll have to connect when you’re in this area.

  4. I hope that the treatments will help Sarah and that the medical team will be able to find other solutions to help Sarah. May God grant healing to Sarah, give comfort to you and to everyone else who loves Sarah, and make things easy for all of you. May God also open the hearts of your faith community and other communities to show true compassion and love for LGBT people.

    • Thanks Laura. One reason why I find this situation so off-putting is that I frequently feel like a liability to my local congregation. Every time there’s something else to set me apart from other people in my congregation, I stand out like a sore thumb. It makes me really angry that caring whether Sarah can understand what’s being said in church somehow renders me odd and different from everyone else.

  5. Lindsey! I am in tears. I am praying for you both, together, and I love you. And tell Sarah I’m praying specially for her in her grief over not being a mother, too; even though I’m heterosexually married, I’ve had to grieve that my vocation does not seem to be motherhood, either.

    One of the things that keeps me in the Church when the attitude toward LGBT people makes me furious enough to walk out is that I can’t change anything from the outside. I’m hoping and praying desperately for a turn in this tide.

    If there’s anything I can do for you and Sarah, you have my email address … <3

    • Hi Jenna, thanks for dropping by the comments. We appreciate your prayers. It’s amazing how many Christians have this idea that everyone should be straight, able-bodied, financially ascendent hard-workers. I’m so grateful for everyone I’ve met who believes earnestly that the Good News of Christ is for all people and calls us to recognize how frequently we overlook certain kinds of people.

    • Thanks Maria. Right now our biggest prayer request is that the frequent vertigo attacks stop. If and when we can stop the vertigo, hopefully the Menieres will stabilize so we can adapt to our new normal.

  6. Sarah and Lindsey, even though I don’t know you, I do want you to know that I am and will pray for you both…as partners. You are right, Lindsay, in not being willing to use “friend” instead of “partner” because it describes a whole different kind of relationship and the type of trauma you are going thru together. I am a heterosexual married mother of 4 and have been a follower of Jesus for 44 years. I have been on both sides of this “argument” and have come to the place that love trumps all–including judgment of others. Did God appoint me as the “moral police” of the world, or did He send me to love the world? Life has taught me it is definitely the latter!

    You are in my thoughts and prayers, sisters.

    • Thanks so much for your prayers. This situation is creating some rapid changes that are totally unpredictable. Thank you for commenting on the blog. Hopefully we’ll see you again!

  7. We’ve had a tough week too.

    We will keep you in our thoughts and prayers. Thank you for sharing your experiences and thoughts on this blog -you are making a very valuable contribution.

    May the grace and peace of almighty God come down upon you both and remain with forever.

    And may almighty God bless you both.
    Father
    Son
    And Holy Spirit.

    Amen

  8. I’ll be praying for both of you 🙂
    Its nice to hear from you Lindsey on this because people might forget that Sarah’s health very much affects you.
    I really do hope learning ASL gets easier.
    Has your priest indicated if it would be inappropriate to have a prayer listed for the church for both of you?

    • Hi MJ, I’ve only rarely see congregations where people regularly pray for caregivers as a part of their prayer list. Most of the time, congregations will pray for people who are sick. Sarah’s been able to write an email requesting prayer support as Sarah navigates these processes. Sometimes it seems like caregivers are just expected to deal with whatever they’re dealing with on their own.

  9. Thoughts, prayers and of course hugs to you both. It wouldn’t be right if there weren’t hugs when you two are involved. You both have a very strong network that truly love you both. What blessings they are of and you both. Love you.

  10. Prayers for both of you. Also this resonates a bit with some things in my situation that I haven’t told you about yet. (And can’t now typing on a phone keyboard).

    • Hi Estel. Thanks for dropping by. Getting to know each other can always be tricky at a distance. We look forward to getting to know you better.

  11. I will ask my friends and parish to pray for you both and your partnership. St. Photina, pray for Sarah and Lindsey!

    Most Pure, most blessed, Lady Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, open the doors of compassion to those whose hope is in thee. That we may not parish, but be delivered from adversity through thee, who art the salvation of the Christian people.

  12. Meniers can have many courses. I hope Sarahs experience is as benign as possible. My thoughts and prayers are with you both.

    • Hi Lloyd. Thanks for your comment. We’re so grateful that Sarah has a doctor who has been treating inner ear disorders for several decades, specializing in Menieres. Unfortunately, it seems that he’s only worked with a handful of other patients who have had the disease progress this quickly. We continue to hope for the best, really praying that the injections take care of the vertigo with minimal adverse effects.

  13. What Mj said: I’ll be praying for both of you. I hadn’t been following the blog closely enough to catch why Sarah was immersed in ASL, and I know, at the moment, nothing about Meniers except what I can infer from your blog and Facebook.
    As for why “partner” is dangerous at Church, we’re living in a time of upheaval over related issues, and the Church’s (supposed) tradition of just two paths, marriage or monasticism doesn’t fit your path. Theodore’s assumption is not uncommon.

    • Thanks for your prayers. Sarah is definitely more immersed in ASL than I am, but I do try. I can understand the broad sense of upheaval, but it’s hard to feel like something as simple as making a prayer request at church has the power to upset something so carefully balanced.

  14. I’m so sorry to hear about the scary health developments and especially about the painful lack of safety and support for you both in so many Christian contexts including your parish. Lamenting with you and interceding as well.

  15. Hi Lindsey,
    I’m so sorry for the extra burden you feel from not having the unconditional love and support you need from your family in Christ. Thanks for sharing your heart with us. Please know that I’m praying for you and your partner Sarah.

    • Hi Mary Pepper. Thanks for reading. There’s some limit as to how much a person can carry by himself or herself. I’m not particularly concerned about Sarah eventually losing hearing, but I am very concerned regarding the rate of loss. I’m not the quickest with languages. However, I know that in many environments we visit together, I’ll be the only person in a position to help Sarah out so it feels like an essential skill to acquire quickly.

  16. Lindsey,
    I’m sorry that you’re not able to find the church community support that would be so welcome right now. Caregiving can feel lonely. I am praying for both you and Sarah for healing and strength and the comfort of God’s goodness.

    • Thanks for your prayers. Everywhere I’ve been in church, I know that the community makes an effort. However, sometimes it’s easier for people to run with their assumptions especially after they’ve made some truly wild assumptions.

  17. My heart bleeds for the both of you. You go through so much! Amidst all the suffering, God’s grace really shines through you. Thank you for your vulnerability and openness. I will certainly pray that Sarah’s frequent vertigo attacks stop. Also, my parish priest is deaf and may be able to share some resources on ASL translations of theological words, as it’s something he’s been considering as a topic for his PhD. You are both in my thoughts and prayers. Keep fighting the good fight! BIG HUGS!!!!

    • Hi Angela, thanks for your comment. I spent some time this evening looking for some resources on Youtube. It seems like there are some common things like the Lord’s Prayer that have been transliterated into ASL, and I found some channels prepared by Deaf Christians which were helpful. Does your priest know of any standard video blogs that feature things like lectionary readings or sermons delivered in ASL?

  18. Lindsey

    Definitely keeping you both in my prayers for strength and encouragement. More than anything I think you are a blessing to Sarah! Thank God she doesn’t have to face this alone as a single person, and isolated … It is so much better to have a caring and faithful partner to be there in your time of need. God bless you both!

    • Hi Kathy, yes, you’ve named things well. I’d hate for Sarah to be going through all of this alone. Even through everything, Sarah has supported me in countless ways as well. I’m very grateful.

  19. Hi Lindsey and Sarah,

    I’m sorry to hear of the scary condition afflicting you. Both of you are in my prayers for healing and strength.

    As I’ve read a number of your posts on language and verbiage, I wonder if “companion” may result in less vitriol and misdirected Christian concern sent your way, provided that it matches how you see your relationship. Admittedly, you shouldn’t have to telegraph every crucial detail of your relationship to your congregation in an attempt to prevent repetitive, unhelpful judgements and comments. But, if nothing else, it could cause the average Pharisee to pause and engage you in coversation, instead of making kneejerk reactions and assumptions, as partner does have a wider connotation in modern society. Companion may be an unusual characterization to them, and help them realize that they have no idea where you are in your spiritual journey.

    Yes, the person should not make assumptions on anything about you without hearing it from you first, and in addition, should provide any critiques in a non-agressive and charitable way. However, that doesn’t seem to be your experience.

    From my subjective perspective, companion has been used by many religious, referring to their self-selected family, with whom they live in close quarters constantly and feel intensely intimate in a celibate way.

    In the end, you may feel that a change in terminology would do little to affect a meaningful difference in the response from your congregation or blog readers, but my suggestion is available if you like giving it a try.

    In Christ,

    Danny

    • Hi Danny, thanks for the comment. I think it might be worth having a conversation. The only places I’ve seen “companion” used have been in Mona Lisa Smile and various stories of martyrs (“Saint So-and-so and his or her companions”). One of the reasons why we do default towards partner is that we definitely understand the word in the “teammate” sense. We’ve also lived other places where it was not a word immediately associated with LGBT people.

  20. I have two friends who suffered from the same affliction, though I do not know how serious their hearing loss was compared with Sarah’s. Both eventually stabilized with good medical help, and adjusted their expectations and lived productively as well as somewhat peacefully. One is a septuagenarian, former nun who now finds a spiritual home in a local Unitarian church, the other a RC priest who would have welcomed you– if he were still on this beautiful but weed-prone earth–in his parish and set a positive tone for his community by inviting an asl person to sit or stand near the front but also to the side (so as not to tempt others to distraction or judgmental anger) in order to not put the fosus on you and Sarah but rather to make his liturgies genuinely and in all ways “accessible.” So there is hope, along with prayers.

    I now attend an Eastern Orthodox church. Unfortunately there probably would be no assigned signer, but you and Sarah would be welcomed-in light of your commitment to celibacy– by the priest, his wife, and (because of the tone they set) by everyone else. Interestingly for me (a former RC) found at St Basil church a deeper, more intense experience of prayer and communion, and no diversions into political squabbles. Orthodoxy seems to present a rather harsh front, but behind that is a core of true Christian love. Not prosylitizing here, just saying. There is hope. And prayers (mine now, today, Sunday, on my way to Divine Liturgy).

    I read your blog because you both inspire me.

      • I think that there’s a lot of diversity to parish experiences even within a tradition. It’s easier to blend in if you go to a bigger church than it is if you go to a smaller church. Certain pastors are better equipped to deal with pastoral needs than other pastors. One reason why ASL signing can be distracting to other people is that you want to position yourself directly in front of the person you’re talking to, especially when you’re just learning. We are trying though for sure.

        • Forgot to say: There will be a healing service (strange title – moleben) at our church on Tuesday. I’m new to this, so I’m not sure if we ask for literal healing, or for the faith & strength to live lovingly no matter what. Anyway, we can write a name on a piece of paper and place that in a basket to be used as part of the service, I am told. It’s not a kind of magic, as you know. But it seems like a very concrete and personal way to pray for help and true healing. So I’m writing Sarah’s name for tomorrow evening’s service.

  21. For those of you following the comments section on this post, I wanted to let you know Sarah is beginning the injection series tomorrow, a week earlier than expected. Prayers most appreciated.

  22. Lindsey and Sarah, thanks so much for your vulnerability here and for sharing a piece of your heart. Will be praying for Sarah’s health and your partnership as you navigate this new challenge together.

  23. I know this in no way is what you hope for in your church, but I think the beauty of the Body of Christ is that it encompasses all types of “communities,” including online…and so you will have my prayers both individually and as a couple.

    • Thanks. Through all of this, we’ve been amazed at how we’ve encountered Christ in our readers and Facebook friends. It’s been exceptionally wonderful to be held in the prayers of those who love us and care for us.

  24. I only read this post today, so I understand that it’s a while since it was posted, but I’m still praying for you both and love you both and understand how hard it is to feel that even something that should be as simple as a prayer request becomes incredibly tricky under these circumstances. I want you to know just how much God loves you and how intensely he listened to your spoken and unspoken prayers. I’m sending you international hugs. 🙂

    • Thanks for the hugs! We appreciate the continued thoughts and prayers, and we are happy to report that things have improved a great deal since we finally made the decision to move to a new parish.

  25. I have been praying for you both since I started reading your blog in March. I have been praying for God’s direction in your vocations, for proper decision making through pain and illness, and for continued opportunities for you both to grow closer to God, each other, and the world around you. I know that this is being posted considerably later than the post was made, but we can all use extra prayer.

    • Thanks for all your prayers. We are grateful for all our friends and readers who pray for us. Know that we are praying for all of you as well.

  26. I just started following you on Twitter and saw you posted this today but that the original blog was written over a year ago (Oct 2014). What is the update on Sarah’s illness? How are you two handling life now?

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